(This page published June 19, 2022)
By Ken Crooker
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This article appears here courtesy of the organizers of the remarkably enjoyable and successful St. Louis Pen Show (illustrations added bacause that’s what I do).
Pen Shows can be overwhelming, especially if you’re at your first one. Here are some tips, tricks, warnings, recommendations, and other advice to keep your weekend safe, fun, and devoid of cringey moments:
Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be on your feet a lot. A lot. And make it a point to sit down once in a while.
Carry water with you in a sealable container. It’s easy to get distracted and forget to stay hydrated. They’re predicting it’s going to be about a million degrees for the show. You don’t want to be outside and pass out from dehydration. We have vultures here.
Carrying a snack or two isn’t a bad idea, either. I’ve missed lunch more than once. Not messy snacks, though. Nothing sticky, oozy, or crumbly.
Carry a notebook with you with your favorite paper in it. You’ll have a chance to try lots of pens and inks, so if you bring your own notebook, you’ll be able to bring it back home for reference. A notebook is also handy for keeping a list of things you’re interested in. It’s pretty frustrating when you hit the end of the day and you want to go back for something and can’t remember who had it.
Make a list of what you want to buy or inspect, and knock those out early. It’s easy to get carried away with something else and forget something you wanted to check out.
And while we’re talking about lugging things around, it’s a good idea to carry some cash with you. Not all vendors take credit cards or PayPal/Venmo.
Avoid backpacks. They are big and clumsy. If you want to carry a bag, go for a shoulder/messenger bag. If the show is crowded, it’s easy to bop people with a backpack and knock over merchandise or children as you turn around.
Speaking of bags, don’t place your bag on top of a vendor’s merchandise. I know what you’re thinking: “Who would ever do that??!” It happens. I’ve seen it. I was horrified. If you need to set your bag down, set it on the floor (just don’t forget it when you walk away).
Most vendors will be fine if you handle pens, but it’s always best to ask first. Some pens are expensive or have unique features, and they may want to show you something about the pen before you handle it. They might also want to verify that you don’t have your snack all over your fingers.
Speaking of playing with pens, don’t test the filling mechanisms on pens until you verify the pen is empty. Few things are as embarrassing as firing ink all over the place because you wanted to test a lever. It’s kind of funny to see at first, but not so much if the ink gets all over merchandise or ruins the hotel’s tablecloth.
Also, when uncapping a pen, it’s a good idea to ask if it’s a pull-cap or a screw-cap. If you try to pull off a screw-cap, you could very easily wreck it. And if you try to push a screw-cap back on, you’ll definitely break it and the people around you will faint.
Ask lots of questions and talk to everyone! The best part of the show is the people. Our vendors are spectacular, our volunteers are there to help you, and the attendees are all just as excited and nerdy as you are. Many of us know each other at the show, so if you ask someone a question and they can’t answer it, chances are they know who can.
And finally, don’t forget to visit the bar in the evenings for Pen Shows After Dark. That’s where everyone grabs a seat, grabs a drink, and whips out all their pens. You’ll get to meet lots of great people and try lots of different pens and nibs that you otherwise might never see in the wild. And stories. There are always stories. Some funny, some embarrassing, some horrific (man, this dude pulled the plunger on the Snorkel and fired ink all over my shirt).
Pen shows are a lot of fun, but they can be crowded and overwhelming. Stay calm, stay hydrated, meet people, and most of all have fun.